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Fascinating facts about Granville Woods inventor of the Multiplex Railway Telegraph in 1887. Granville T. Woods
AT A GLANCE:
Granville T. Woods's inventions were part of the everyday lives of millions of people. They rode street cars and subways powered by Woods's motors, supplied with electricity by Woods's electric transfer devices, and wree brought to safe stops by Woods's improved air brakes. In 1887, Woods developed his most important invention  - a device he called Multiplex Railway Telegraph.
THE STORY
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Inventor: Granville T. Woods
Portrait of Granville Woods courtesy Ohio Historical Society
Criteria: First to invent. First to patent. Entrepreneur
Birth: April 23, 1856 in Columbus, Ohio
Death: January 30, 1910 in New York City, New York
Nationality: American
Invention: Multiplex Railway Telegraph
M.R.T. Patent No. 373,915 drawing courtesy USPTO
Function: noun / mul·ti·plex rail·way tele·graph
Definition: A variation of the "induction telegraph," it allowed for messages to be sent from moving trains and railway stations. By allowing dispatchers to know the location of each train, it provided for greater safety and a decrease in railway accidents.
Patent: 373,915 (US) issued November 29, 1887
Milestones:
1856 Granville T. Woods was born a free black man on April 23, 1856 in Columbus, Ohio
1866 Attending school until age 10, he served an apprenticeship as a  machinist and blacksmith 1872 Woods obtained a job as a fireman on the Danville and Southern Railroad in Missouri
1874 Granville Woods moved to Springfield, Illinois, and worked in a steel rolling mill.
1876 Woods took college courses in electrical and mechanical engineering
1878 He served as engineer on the British steamer Ironsides
1880 He settled in Cincinnati, Ohio
1884 His first patent was for a steam boiler furnace
1884 Woods, along with his brother Lyates, formed the Woods Railway Telegraph Company
1885 Woods patented a device which was a combination of a telephone and a telegraph.
1885 The device was so successful that he sold it to the American Bell Telephone Company.
1887 Woods developed a device he called Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph
1890 Woods moved to New York City to expand on his subway and trolley electrical inventions
1892 Woods created a method to supply electricity to a train without any exposed wires or batteries
1903 Woods received a patent for an "Electric Railway" (U.S. No. 729,481)
1910 He suffered a stroke and died January 30, at Harlem Hospital in New York City
CAPs: Woods, Granville Woods, Lyates Woods,
Woods Electrical Company, General Electric, Westinghouse and Bell Telephone Company, The Multiplex Telegraph, SIPs: electrical, railway, streetcar, subway, trolley, telegraphony, inventor, biography, profile, history, inventor of, history of, who invented, invention of, fascinating facts.
STORY:
Known as the "Black Thomas Edison", Granville T. Woods taught himself electrical and mechanical engineering while working in railroad machine shops and steel mills. In his career, he received more than 45 patents and established his own company. His first patent for a furnace and boiler to produce steam heat. In the years that followed, the prolific inventor improved the telephone transmitter and developed an electric car powered by overhead wires, a grooved wheel for the trolley car, a "third rail" system for an electric locomotive, an improved airbrake system, and a telegraph system for communicating between moving trains, which contributed to railroad safety.

Granville Woods was born a free man on April 23, 1856 in Columbus, Ohio. He spent his early years attending school until the age of 10 at which point he began working in a machine shop repairing railroad equipment and machinery. Intrigued by the electricity that powered the machinery, Woods studied other machine workers as they attended to different pieces of equipment and paid other workers to sit down and explain electrical concepts to him.

Working as a fireman in 1872 on the Danville & Southern Railroad in Missouri, Woods worked his way up to engineer and studied electronics on the side. In 1874, Woods would move to Springfield, Ill. and work in a steel rolling mill. He then moved East working part-time in a machine shop and taking a mechanical engineering course.Woods took college courses in electrical and rnechanical engineering from 1876 to 1878. In 1878, he took a job aboard the Ironsides, a British steamer, and, within two years, became Chief Engineer of the steamer.

Unfortunately, despite his high aptitude and valuable education and expertise, Woods was denied opportunities and promotions because of the color of his skin. In 1880, Woods moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to look for better opportunities. It was there that Woods would revolutionize the railroad industry. As an electrician, he invented 15 appliances for electrified railways, receiving his first patent for a steam boiler furnace in 1884.

Out of frustration and a desire to promote his abilities, Woods, along with his brother Lyates, formed the Woods Electric Company in 1884. The company manufactured and sold telephone, telegraph and electrical equipment. In 1885, Woods patented a apparatus which was a combination of a telephone and a telegraph. The device, which he called "telegraphony," would allow a telegraph station to send voice and telegraph messages over a single wire.The device was so successful that he later sold it to the American Bell Telephone Company..The Bell Company's purchase of this invention enabled Woods to become a full-time inventor.

In 1887, Woods developed a device he called Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph. A success in the powerful railroad industry of the late nineteenth century, the device not only helped dispatchers locate trains, but also allowed moving trains to communicate by telegraph. This invention was so useful that Woods found himself fighting patent suits filed by none other than Thomas Edison,and one by another inventor named Lucius Phelps.. Woods eventually won, but Edison continued to pursue the telegraph by offering Woods a lucrative partnership in one of Edison's businesses. Woods refused, preferring to be independent.

In 1888, Woods developed a system for overhead electric conducting lines for railroads, which aided in the development of the overhead railroad system found in cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, and New York City. In 1890, Woods moved to New York City to expand on his subway and trolley electrical inventions

In 1892, Woods used his knowledge of electrical systems in creating a method of supplying electricity to a train without any exposed wires or secondary batteries. Approximately every 12 feet, electricity would be passed to the train as it passed over an iron block. He first demonstrated the device as an amusement apparatus at the Coney Island amusement park and while it amused patrons, it would be a novel approach towards making safer travel for trains.

Many of Woods inventions attempted to increase efficiency and safety railroad cars, Woods developed the concept of a third rail which would allow a train to receive more electricity while also encountering less friction. This concept is still used on subway train platforms in major cities in the United States.In  1903, Granville T. Woods received a patent for an "Electric Railway" (U.S. No. 729,481).

He suffered a stroke and died January 30, 1910 at Harlem Hospital in New York City, at the young age of 53. He was very poor when he died, despite his great success as an inventor. Some suggest that his fortunes were spent on legal fees defending his patents.

Of the more than 45 patents that he registered, the majority were concerned with railroad telegraphs, electrical brakes, and electrical railway systems. Some of his better known contributions were in developing the "third rail" concept in mass-transit subway systems and developing the "trolley" system for trolley cars.

Mr. Woods' inventions were well-received, he had become an admired and well respected inventor, having sold a number of his devices to such giants as American Bell Telephone Company, General Electric, Westinghouse Air Brake Company and American Engineering. The magnitude of an inventors work can often be defined by the esteem in which he is held by fellow inventors. If this is the case, then Granville Woods was certainly a respected inventor as he was often referred to as the "Black Thomas Edison."

TO LEARN MORE

RELATED INFORMATION:
Black Inventors, A Class Act   from The Great Idea Finder
Communication History   from The Great Idea Finder  

ON THE BOOKSHELF:
African American Inventors
by Otha Richard Sullivan, James Haskins / Library Binding - 176 pages (1998) / John Wiley & Sons

For more than three centuries, African American inventors have been coming up with ingenious ideas. In fact, it is impossible to really know American history without also learning about the contributions of black discoverers.
Black Inventors
by Nathan Aaseng / Hardcover: 144 pages / Facts on File, Inc.(August 1997)
Ten short, well-written biographies tell the stories of black inventors whose contributions have often
been overlooked or unrecognized.
Black Pioneers of Science and Invention
by Louis Haber / Paperback - 264 pages Reprint edition / Harcourt Brace (January 1992)
Dr. Haber has lifted from obscurity 14 remarkably gifted black Americans who played crucial roles in this country's scientific and industrial progress. Includes photos and illustrations. 

Five Notable Inventors (Great Black Heroes)
by Wade Hudson, Ron Garnett (Illustrator) / Paperback:/ Cartwheel Books; ; (April 1995)
Follows five inventors: Elijah "the real" McCoy, machinery oiling equipment; Madame C.J. Walker, hair products for black women; Granville Woods, electrical signal system for trains; Garrett Morgan, gas masks and traffic signals; and Jan Matzeliger, shoe machinery.

The African-American Century : How Black Americans Have Shaped Our Country
by Henry Louis, Jr. Gates, Cornel West / Paperback: 432 pages / Free Press (February 5, 2002)
When it began, only 35 years after the end of slavery, few could envision what the 20th century would hold for black Americans. F
ills the aching gaps in public awareness about African Americans and remind us that self-confidence, dignity, and excellence are the essential virtues in the great historical drama of American democracy.
The New York Public Library African American Desk Reference
by New York Public Library / Hardcover: 624 pages / Wiley; 1 edition (September 16, 1999)
This is exactly the type of reference book you'd expect from the New York Public Library--it is packed with tables, charts, timelines, and summaries devoted, in this case, to the African American experience. Including a chapter on notable achievements of African Americans are also addressed, including inventors and innovators.

ON THE WEB:
African-American Inventors – Railroad/Transportation Industry
An extensive list of black inventors contrubutions to the railroad industry. Prepared for African-American Railroader Month 2004 by Norfolk Southern Corporation.You will find information on Granville Woods and a complete list of his inventions.
(URL: www.nscorp.com/)
Invention Dimension - Inventor of the Week
Celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards to inspire a new generation of American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs.
(URL: web.mit.edu/invent/iow/woods.html)
Granvillle T. Woods
Wods's inventions were part of the everyday lives of millions of people. They rode street cars and subways powered by Woods's motors, supplied with electricity by Woods's electric transfer devices, and brought to safe stops by Woods's improved air brakes.
(URL: purpleplanetmedia.com/bhp/pages/gtwoods.shtml)
The Black Thomas Edison
The magnitude of an inventors work can often be defined by the esteem in which he is held by fellow inventors. If this is the case, then Granville Woods was certainly a respected inventor as he was often referred to as the "Black Thomas Edison." This site has COOKIES and POP-UP ADS.
(URL: www.blackinventor.com/pages/granvillewoods.html)
Electrical Engineer, Mechanical Engineer, Inventor
Woods took college courses in electrical and rnechanical engineering from 1876 to 1878. He served as engineer on the British steamer Ironsides in 1878, and later settled in Cincinnati, Ohio.
(URL: www.users.fast.net/~blc/xlhome3.htm)
Black History Month Feature on Ganville T. Woods
IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. The IEEE established the IEEE History Center to preserve, research and promote the legacy of  Electrical Engineering and Computing. In 1990, the Center moved to the campus of Rutgers University, a cosponsor.
(URL: www.ieee.org/organizations/history_center/woods.htm)
On the Move with Advanced Trolleys and Safer Trains
Granville Woods was awarded more than 35 patents for electrical system and devices which created new energy techniques for the transportation and communication industries.
(URL: www.africanamericans.com/GranvilleTWoods.htm)
Scholastic Magazine Top Ten African-American Inventors
Throughout history, African Americans have invented some important and fun devices. Read about ten examples of men and women and see what they invented.Think about what kind of obstacles they may have faced, personally and professionally.
(URL: teacher.scholastic.com/activities/bhistory/inventors/)
The Faces of Science: African Americans in the Sciences
Profiled here are African American men and women who have contributed to the advancement of science and engineering. The accomplishments of the past and present can serve as pathfinders to present and future engineers and scientists.
(URL: www.princeton.edu/~mcbrown/display/faces.html)
Honoring Black Inventors of the Past
Black minds have been inventors, engineers and master-builders since antiquity. We must maintain the time-honored tradition in preparation for the 21st century and beyond. Stories of seven black inventors presented by Byron L. Crudup, P.E.
(URL: www.users.fast.net/~blc/xlhome2.htm)

DID YOU KNOW?:

  • In 1969, a public school in Brooklyn, New York was named after Granville Woods
Designated trademarks and brands are the property of their respective owners.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type. This page revised January 30, 2006.
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